The Japanese have a way of obsessing over, tweaking, improving, and elevating things to an extraordinary level that never existed before.
Shaved ice is no exception.
I had never heard of kakigori before moving to Hong Kong. Sure, I'd had shaved ice. After all, my parents are from Taiwan, so I grew up eating the Taiwanese version all the time. We would make a big batch of "snow" with our hand-cranked ice shaving machine and top it with sweetened condensed milk (from a can!) and sweetened red adzuki beans. It was a match made in heaven, and I loved it in the summer time. I tried other types, such as American snow cones / slushies or Hawaiian "shave ice", but I always preferred the Asian version.
Then I discovered Japanese kakigori for the first time. I tried it at Shari Shari in Hong Kong. This, my friends, is truly shaved ice at a completely different level.
It takes quite a bit of skill to make a proper kakigori. Not only does the resultant ice have to be fluffy and light, the syrup must be added periodically at varying times throughout the ice making process to ensure that the flavor is evenly distributed throughout the shaved ice mound. You can see in the photos above how there is some flavoring syrup that is added on a bottom layer first before more ice is added.
True kakigori masters will spend years perfecting their art to achieve that perfect fluffy ice texture, the ideal amount and distribution of syrup, and the right toppings. All syrups and toppings are made from scratch using the natural ingredients. Like an entry level sushi chef who makes rice for the first couple of years, a junior kakigori master may only make ice blocks for the first couple years.
As far as I know, Shari Shari (Soho, Causeway Bay) is the only shop in Hong Kong that makes truly authentic, Japanese-style kakigori. The shop imports almost all of its equipment and ingredients from Japan, even down to the ice blocks, which come from Hokkaido.
Each kakigori is made to order. Once it's made, it has a very short "life" before it begins to melt and degrade in quality. For this reason, Shari Shari has pretty strict rules to ensure maximum enjoyment of these masterpieces.
First, don't share a big bowl by dividing it up into smaller bowls. The act of scooping, splitting, and sharing will ruin the texture and structure of the kakigori "ball". Furthermore, dividing it will cause the ice to melt way too quickly. You won't be able to fully enjoy the fluffy texture nor the properly distributed flavors.
Second, finish taking photos "within 20 seconds" emphasis from original source. This one's pretty obvious. The delicate, fluffy kakigori melts quickly and won't taste good if you waste too much time getting that perfect shot.
Shari Shari has a lot of great flavor combinations made using natural ingredients mostly imported from Japan. There are several signature ones that are always on the menu, like the fantastic Kyoto Uji Kin Tokyo ($78 HKD), which includes Kyoto uji matcha syrup, milk syrup, azuki (red bean) paste, and mochi (pictured above). The matcha flavor is excellent and both the matcha and milk syrups are nicely spread out throughout the ice mound.
The Strawberry Special (pictured at the top of the post) is another staple that is light and refreshing. Made with just fresh strawberries, milk syrup, and whipped cream (optional), this bright and refreshing kakigori tastes like fresh fruit and is perfect during Hong Kong's long hot weather season.
One of my favorite seasonal kakigoris is Chestnut "marron". It isn't too sweet and is so creamy, nutty, and fragrant. I was so disappointed when it disappeared in the spring. Maybe it will come back when the weather gets cooler?
Another favorite is the Japanese Tofu, which is made with tofu syrup (a bit like sweetened soy milk), tofu ice cream, and kinako (soy bean powder). We ended up ordering a side of extra kinako powder, which we loved. The nutty kinako added so much flavor!
There are often fun seasonal flavors, such as a pink "Sakura" one during cherry blossom season, Pumpkin in the fall, and even Japanese Sweet Sake, which recently caught my eye. It's fun to go back periodically because there's always something new to try.
The shop has a minimum spend of $35 HKD per person. This works out nicely for two people to share one kakigori. Honestly, the kakigori are HUGE and perfect for sharing. The first time I went I ate a whole one by myself and subsequently skipped dinner because I was so full. (It was partly my fault because I ordered one with both mochi and red beans, both filling ingredients!)
I once went with a party of three and we shared two kakigori and just supplemented our order with a cheesecake (pictured above) and some extra kinako powder. To be honest, the cheesecake was nothing special (especially compared to the kakigori). However, we did love having extra kinako powder to eat with our tofu kakigori.
In short, I love this place. Yes, $70 - $80 HKD (about $10 USD) does seem like a lot for a bowl of ice. However, you have to consider the fact that they are importing their ice from Hokkaido, using specialized equipment, and using high quality ingredients in their homemade sauces and toppings.
Now with the hot weather in full force, I'm sure I'll be heading to Central or Causeway more often to enjoy this delightfully refreshing dessert!
Note: according to their Facebook page (they don't seem to have a website), the Causeway Bay location is currently closed due to maintenance work in the kitchen. Hope it doesn't stay closed for too long!
Shari Shari Kakigori Hong Kong
G/F, 47 Staunton Street, Soho, Central
G/F 14 Haven St, Causeway Bay